Mug shot of Robert Hansen
February 15, 1939 |
|461 years in prison|
Span of killings
|June 13, 1983|
Robert Christian Hansen (born February 15, 1939) is an American serial killer. Between 1971 and 1983, Hansen murdered between 17 and 21 women near Anchorage, Alaska. He was convicted in 1983 and is currently serving 461 years in Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward, Alaska.
Hansen was born in Estherville, Iowa, to Christian and Edna Hansen. Throughout childhood and adolescence, Hansen was described as being quiet and a loner, and had a dysfunctional relationship with his domineering father. He was frequently bullied at school for having acne and speaking with a stutter. He started hunting and often found refuge in this.:5 In 1957, Hansen enlisted in the United States Army Reserve and served for one year before being discharged. He later worked as an assistant drill instructor at a police academy in Pocahontas, Iowa. There, Hansen began a relationship with a younger woman. He married her in the summer of 1960.
On December 7, 1960, he was arrested for burning down a Pocahontas County Board of Education school bus garage, for which he served 20 months of a three-year prison sentence in Anamosa State Penitentiary. His wife filed for divorce while he was incarcerated. Over the next few years, he was jailed several times for petty theft. In 1967, he moved to Anchorage, Alaska with his second wife, whom he had married in 1963 and with whom he had two children. In Anchorage, he was well liked by his neighbors and set several local hunting records.:5
In 1977, he was imprisoned for theft of a chainsaw, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and prescribed lithium to control his mood swings. He was never officially ordered to take the medication, however.
On June 13, 1983, 17-year-old Cindy Paulson escaped from 44-year-old Robert Hansen while he was trying to load her into his Piper Super Cub. She told police that she had been offered $200 to perform oral sex, but when she got into the car Hansen pulled a gun on her and drove her to his home in Muldoon; there, he held her captive, torturing, raping, and sexually assaulting her. She mentioned that, after he chained her by the neck to a post in the house's basement, Hansen took a nap on a nearby couch. When he awoke he put her in his car and took her to Merrill Field airport, where he told her that he intended to "take her out to his cabin" (a meat shack in the Knik River area of the Matanuska Valley accessible only by boat or bush plane). Paulson, crouched in the back seat of the car with her wrists cuffed in front of her body, waited until Hansen was busy loading the airplane's cockpit to make a run for it. While Hansen's back was turned, Paulson crawled out of the back seat, opened the driver's side door and took off running toward nearby 6th Avenue. She later told police that she'd left her blue sneakers on the passenger side floor of the sedan's backseat as evidence that she'd in fact been in the car. Hansen panicked and ran after her, but Paulson made it to 6th Avenue first and managed to flag down a passing truck. The driver, alarmed by her disheveled appearance, stopped and picked her up. He drove her, upon request, to the Mush Inn, where she jumped out of the truck and ran inside. While she pleaded with the clerk to phone her boyfriend at the Big Timber Motel, the truck driver continued on to work, where he called the police to report the barefoot, handcuffed woman. When Anchorage Police Department officers arrived at the Mush Inn, they were told that the young woman had taken a cab to the Big Timber Motel. APD officers arrived at room 110 of the Big Timber Motel and found Cindy Paulson, still handcuffed, and alone. She was taken to APD headquarters where she described the perpetrator. Hansen, when questioned by APD officers, denied the accusation stating that Paulson was just trying to cause some trouble because he wouldn't pay her extortion demands. Although Hansen had had several prior run-ins with the law, his meek demeanor and humble occupation as a baker, along with a strong alibi from his friend John Henning, kept him from being considered as a serious suspect, and the case went cold.
Detective Glenn Flothe of the Alaska State Troopers had been part of a team investigating the discovery of several bodies in and around Anchorage, Seward and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley area. The first of the bodies was found by construction workers near Eklutna Road. The body, dubbed "Eklutna Annie" by investigators, has never been identified. Later that year, the body of Joanna Messina was discovered in a gravel pit near Seward, and in the year following (1982) the remains of 23-year-old Sherry Morrow were discovered in a shallow grave near the Knik River. Flothe now had three bodies and what looked like one killer. He contacted Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Roy Hazelwood and requested help with a criminal psychological profile based on the three recovered bodies. Hazelwood theorized that the killer would be an experienced hunter with low self-esteem, have a history of being rejected by women, and would feel compelled to keep "souvenirs" of his murders, such as a victim's jewelry. He also suggested the assailant might stutter. Using this profile, Flothe investigated possible suspects until he reached Hansen, who fit the profile and owned a plane.
Supported by Paulson's testimony and Hazelwood's profile, Flothe and the APD secured a warrant to search Hansen's plane, cars and home. On October 27, 1983 investigators uncovered jewelry belonging to some of the missing women, as well as an array of firearms in a corner hideaway of Hansen's attic. The biggest find was an aviation map with little x marks on it hidden behind Hansen's headboard.
When confronted with the evidence found in his home, Hansen denied it as long as he could, but eventually began to blame the women and tried to justify his motives. Eventually, confessing to each item of evidence as it was presented to him, he admitted to a spree of attacks against Alaskan women starting as early as 1971. Hansen's earliest victims were young women, usually between 16 and 19, and not the prostitutes and strippers who led to his discovery.
Robert C. Hansen raped and assaulted over 30 Alaskan women. He is responsible for the murder of at least 17, ranging in age from 16 to 41. They were:
- Lisa Futrell, 41 (acknowledged, body found with Hansen's help)
- Malai Larsen, 28 (acknowledged, body found with Hansen's help)
- Unknown Jane Doe (acknowledged, body found with Hansen's help)
- Sue Luna, 23 (acknowledged, body found with Hansen's help)
- Tami Pederson, 20 (acknowledged, body found with Hansen's help)
- Angela Feddern, 24 (acknowledged, body found with Hansen's help)
- Teresa Watson (acknowledged, body found with Hansen's help)
- DeLynn "Sugar" Frey (acknowledged, body found with Hansen's help)
- Paula Goulding (acknowledged, body found)
- Andrea "Fish" Altiery (admitted, body found with Hansen's help)
- Sherry Morrow, 23 (admitted, body found)
- "Eklutna Annie" (admitted, body found)
- Joanna Messina (admitted, body found)
- Roxanne Easland, 24 (acknowledged, body not found)
- Ceilia "Beth" Van Zanten, 17 (denies, but suspected because of x on aviation map, body found)
- Megan Emerick, 17 (denies, but suspected because of x on aviation map, body found)
- Mary Thill, 23 (denies, but suspected because of x on aviation map, body not found)
Of these 17 women, Hansen has only formally been charged with the murder of 4; Sherry Morrow, Joanna Messina, Eklutna Annie and Andrea Altiery, as well as the kidnapping and rape of Cindy Paulson.
When arrested, Hansen was charged with assault, kidnapping, multiple weapons offenses, theft and insurance fraud; the last charge was related to his filing a claim with the insurance company over alleged theft of some trophies with the funds being used to purchase the Super Cub (at trial he claimed he later recovered the trophies in his backyard but forgot to inform the insurer). Only after ballistics tests returned a match between bullets found at the crime scenes and Hansen's rifle, did he enter into a plea bargain. He pleaded guilty to the four homicides the police had evidence for (Marrow, Messina, Altiery and Eklutna Annie) and provided details about his other victims in return for serving his sentence in a federal prison, along with no publicity in the press. Another condition of the plea bargain included his full participation in deciphering the markings on his aviation map and locating his victim's bodies. He confirmed police theory of how the women were abducted, adding that he would sometimes let a potential victim go if she convinced him that she wouldn't report him to police, and indicated that he began killing in the early 1970s. He showed investigators a total of 17 grave sites, 12 of which were unknown to investigators, in and around Southcentral Alaska. However, there remained marks on his map that he refused to give up, including three in icy Resurrection Bay (authorities suspect two of these marks belong to the graves of Mary Thill and Megan Emrick, but Hansen has denied killing them). The remains of 12 (of a probable 21) victims were exhumed by the police and returned to their families. Hansen was sentenced, by jury, to 461 years + life in prison.
Hansen was first imprisoned at the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. In 1988, he was returned to Alaska and was briefly incarcerated at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau. He is currently imprisoned at Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward.
In popular culture
A 2012 episode of the Investigation Discovery TV series Alaska: Ice Cold Killers titled "Hunting Humans" and a 2012 episode[which?] on the city of Anchorage on the Travel Channel series Hidden City covered the Hansen case.
Hansen's crimes also inspired a 2012 episode of the NBC TV series Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, entitled "Hunting Ground". The episode depicts a serial killer who hunts women like wild game before killing them.
A second-season episode of Criminal Minds entitled "Open Season", which aired in 2007 and is the forty-third episode overall, is also based on the crimes. Hansen is also referred to by name in the fifth-season episode "Exit Wounds".
Actor John Cusack portrayed Hansen in the 2013 film The Frozen Ground opposite Nicolas Cage as Sergeant Jack Halcombe (a character based on Glenn Flothe) and Vanessa Hudgens as victim Cindy Paulson.
- Bernard Du Clos Fair Game ISBN 978-0-312-92905-3
- Walter Gilmour, Leland E. Hale Butcher, Baker: A True Account of a Serial Murder ISBN 978-0-451-40276-9
- Gather.com Serial Killer Series: Article 7: Robert Hansen August 7, 2007
- ExploreNorth Robert Hansen A Serial Killer in Alaska by Murry Lundburg